Recent census data indicates a declining population in Kankakee County.

In 2010, the county’s population was 113,449. Now, according to the official latest estimate from 2018, it sits at 110,024. The decline cut across much of the area. Population was down in Kankakee, Bradley and Manteno. Bourbonnais was the only major town to see an increase.

Cause for concern? You bet. A couple of observations.

• The local trend is part of a larger statewide exodus. Of all the 50 states, Illinois was one of only two (the other was West Virginia) to see a decrease both during the last year and since 2010.

• It’s not the weather. Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania, other large Midwestern states, were all up.

• We are an aging population. The estimate shows 23.2 percent of the county population under the age of 18, but 16.4 percent of the population over the age of 65. In recent years, schools, both public and private, have closed. When was the last time we opened a new senior center?

• The nation’s birth rate continues to fall. The Centers for Disease Control notes that in 2018, the number of live births in the country hit a 32-year low. Historically, a nation needs a birth rate of 2.1 to maintain its population. The U.S. is at 1.72. Were it not for immigration, we would be a shrinking society.

Here is the good news. In terms of the environment, a smaller (or slow-growing) society means less demand on resources.

Here is the bad news. Government programs, like Social Security and Medicare, that rely on younger workers to foot the bill for older retirees, will be under added stress.

There was a time when municipalities and governments were in competition to create jobs. Kankakee County appears to have won that battle. Now the struggle will be to bring in people — the more skilled the better, the younger the better.

That won’t be easy in a state bent on raising every possible tax. But it is the absolute key to the future.

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